Interactive Investor

AIM’s biggest companies and how they fared in 2023

There a dozen companies on AIM worth £1 billion or more, less than there were 12 months ago. Award-winning AIM writer Andrew Hore reveals what they are and explains what happened to them this year.

29th December 2023 10:24

by Andrew Hore from interactive investor

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One year ago, it appeared that 2022 could have marked the bulk of the decline in AIM. However, the slump continued in 2023, with the low point hit in October. There are signs of a recovery, but there is no certainty it will continue.

The latest Quoted Companies Alliance-backed semi-annual research on smaller company sentiment indicates that managements are becoming more pessimistic, and the level of pessimism is nearly as low as it has ever been during the survey’s life.

A figure of 50 in the survey is neutral and anything above is optimistic and below is pessimistic. The latest number for sentiment about the general outlook is 37.4. To put that in perspective, the only times that the figure has been lower were 12 months ago with 33.1 and at the start of Covid lockdowns in 2020 when the number was 26.2.

When it comes to companies’ view of their own prospects, they are more optimistic. The figure is 54.2, but that is the second lowest number ever. What is more concerning is that 23% of respondents could not think of one thing that was positive about being quoted.

Only one company surveyed was valued at more than £1 billion. It is not certain that this company is on AIM because small fully listed companies were included in the survey.

There are 12 companies worth more than £1 billion on AIM, which is three lower than one year ago. Uranium investor Yellow Cake Ordinary Shares (LSE:YCA) is the only new company on the list.

Two of the companies that were included last year have been taken over.

Healthcare IT supplier EMIS Group was already the subject of a bid last year and it was recently completed after delays due to competition concerns.

The other company is Kape Technologies. The original bid was $3.44 (285p)/share, which was equivalent to £1.25 billion. The Kape Technologies board was not in favour of the deal, but bidder Unikmind already owned 54.8% of the cyber security software company. The bid was subsequently raised to $3.60/share, valuing the company at £1.3 billion. That is a gain of around 8% on the share price at the beginning of 2023.

Smart Metering Systems (LSE:SMS) is currently the subject of an agreed bid. However, some shareholders are not happy with the 955p/share cash offer. They intend to vote their combined 17.8% against it.

Aggregates supplier Breedon Group (LSE:BREE) switched to the Main Market on 16 May 2023. The share price has risen 18% this year, helped by its inclusion in the FTSE 250 index, and 4% higher than when it left AIM.     

RWS Holdings (LSE:RWS) is the only company in the list last year where the share price has fallen far enough for the market capitalisation to dip below £1 billion. There has been a decline of more than two-fifths during 2023 and the translation and IP services provider has dropped from fourth-largest to 15th-largest AIM company.

Company

Market cap (£m)

Change 2023 (%)

Change 2022 (%)

1

Jet2 Ordinary Shares (LSE:JET2)

2,795

+35.9

-10.8

2

HUTCHMED (China) Ltd (LSE:HCM)

2,439

+6.1

-52.8

3

Burford Capital Ltd (LSE:BUR)

2,251

+54.1

-13.0

4

GlobalData (LSE:DATA)

1,635

+17.6

-17.5

5

YouGov (LSE:YOU)

1,374

+16.7

-38.1

6

Yellow Cake Ordinary Shares (LSE:YCA)

1,332

+63.9

+10.2

7

Keywords Studios (LSE:KWS)

1,289

-40.0

-5.3

8

Smart Metering Systems (LSE:SMS)

1,237

+18.5

-7.5

9

CVS Group (LSE:CVSG)

1,229

-11.3

-10.1

10

Fevertree Drinks (LSE:FEVR)

1,218

+1.3

-60.8

11

Greencoat Renewables (LSE:GRP)

€ 1,134

-12.9

+3.1

12

Gamma Communications (LSE:GAMA)

1,105

+4.8

-35.2

15

RWS Holdings (LSE:RWS)

964

-31.4

-43.6

Source: SharePad. Share price changes are as at close of business on 22 December 2023. The comparative changes for 2022 are up to 27 December 2022.

Top 12

There are nine risers and three fallers in the top 12. At the beginning of December, there were a greater number of fallers but share prices have been improving. Even if the fall in RWS is taken into account, the 13 companies have still outperformed the FTSE AIM 100 index and AIM as a whole.

That could be a positive for AIM. If the larger companies are starting to recover, then the others may follow suit.

Newcomer Yellow Cake was valued at £152.4 million at its July 2018 placing price of 200p. There have been six fundraisings in the past five years, and each has been at a higher share price – the latest was at 550p. The share price has nearly trebled over fewer than six years.  

Yellow Cake has been benefiting from the rising uranium price. In the most recent quarter, uranium spot prices rose 31% to $73.5/lb. There is limited supply and demand is increasing.

Airline and tour operator Jet2 Ordinary Shares (LSE:JET2) is back to being the largest company on AIM. Jet2 improved interim pre-tax profit from £505 million to £665 million. The full-year expectation is around £500 million. A second-half loss is normal and winter capacity has been increased.

However, the consumer is becoming more price conscious, and profit could fall next year. Even so, the prospective multiple is eight and there is a strong cash position. There is net cash even if customer balances are excluded.

HUTCHMED (China) Ltd (LSE:HCM) is no longer the largest company on AIM, although there was a small recovery in the share price this year. Other than Yellow Cake, it is the only one of the 12 companies that does not pay a dividend. Prospects for the pharma developer are partly dependent on the success of its fruquintinib cancer treatment. The results of a metastatic renal cell carcinoma trial in China are expected before the end of 2024.

Litigation funder Burford Capital Ltd (LSE:BUR) was the second-best performer, and it received a boost from a New York court judgment in connection with Petersen and Eton Park against the Republic of Argentina and YPF. Shareholders were not compensated for the takeover of YPF by a tender offer as required. It is estimated that Petersen should have been paid $7.5 billion and Eton Park $900 million, with interest adding $6.8 billion and $815 million to the respective totals. Burford Capital has been funding this case since 2015 and it is entitled to 35% of the Petersen net proceeds and 73% of the Eton Park payment. This could total $6.25 billion.

Even excluding this gain there was an increase in overall gains during 2023. This type of company is always likely to have a low rating because of the unpredictability of the timing and size of cases, and it is currently trading on six times prospective earnings, although that is expected to rise to more than 12 in 2024.

There was a sharp turnaround in the GlobalData (LSE:DATA) share price just before Christmas. That was because the data analysis and research services provider agreed the sale of a 40% stake in its healthcare division to Inflexion and it expects to receive £434 million, including the transfer of debt. The investment is being made at 22 times EBITDA.

This moves GlobalData into net cash, which will help to finance acquisitions. The deal with Inflexion points to the undervaluation of group assets. Singer has increased its target price from 178p/share to 231p/share.

In the summer, market research firm YouGov (LSE:YOU) agreed the purchase of the consumer panel business of GfK for €315 million. A placing raised £51.2 million, before expenses, at 920p and the share price was weak until the autumn. It started to recover following annual results.

The acquisition still requires regulatory approval, but that should be imminent. The plan is to enhance the acquired business by adding the group’s services and launching consumer panels in the US. The eventual inclusion of the acquisition will boost forecasts. In 2022, the consumer panel business’ revenues were €134 million and pre-tax profit was €24 million.

Gamma Communications (LSE:GAMA) improved interim revenues by 9% to £256.2 million, while pre-tax profit was 12% higher at £48.3 million. Growth is expected to continue in the second half. The communications company has a steady record and is valued at 15 times prospective earnings.

Mixer drinks supplier Fevertree Drinks (LSE:FEVR) has lost some of its shine, but it did manage to clawback a small proportion of last year’s share price loss. It continues to lose market share in the UK on-trade, but US sales are growing. Underlying interim pre-tax profit slumped from £19.4 million to £6.9 million as staff costs increased by one-fifth. There was a £3.3 million US stock provision. Management plans to reduce costs to help profit to recover.

The prospective multiple is still nearly 69 and even if profit bounces back as expected next year the multiple would still be more than 30. This appears high enough until there is more assurance that there will be a significant profit recovery.  

Couple gaming 600

Fallers

Keywords Studios (LSE:KWS) is the worst performer having slid by two-fifths over the year. The acquisition strategy is continuing, but the video games sector has run into problems and earnings are likely to be flat this year. Unlike Fevertree Drinks, Keywords Studios, which was on a heady rating, is currently on a more modest 17 times estimated earnings. Cash generated from operations can finance further earnings enhancing purchases. There is potential for a share price recovery, but the video games sector is out of favour.

Shares in veterinary company CVS Group (LSE:CVSG)slumped in the second half because of a CMA review of the veterinary market. The review is assessing business practices for household pets because costs have risen faster than inflation. CVS says a shortage of vets is pushing up costs.

Sales were 12% ahead in the first four months of the financial year. Like-for-like sales were 5.8% higher. Margins are being maintained. Up to £50 million in capital spending is anticipated for this year.

Greencoat Renewables (LSE:GRP) (GRP) has a predictable income base from its renewable generation assets, and it was the only one of the companies in the list last year to rise, but its valuation has been hit by higher interest rates. Short-term performance was also boosted by high energy prices, and cash generation is likely to decline but remains substantial. The discount to net asset value is 13%. The shares offer a yield of 6.2%, which is attractive at a time when interest rates could be coming down.

Andrew Hore is a freelance contributor and not a direct employee of interactive investor.

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